Every year across the United States, many Italians, more Italian-American celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Although it’s unclear when the dinner became so popular, the feast is inarguably one of the most essential and sacred Italian culinary events in the calendar year. This feast takes days, sometimes weeks, months, of preparation and planning.
How Did the Feast of the Seven Fishes Start?
Despite its popularity among Americans, many Italians don’t even know about the tradition — or its origin. The tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates back to the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of specific holidays, like Christmas. The number seven can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols. In the Roman Catholic Church, seven is the sacraments, the days of the Creation, and the deadly sins. Hence where the seven courses originated from! In the early 1900s, when the official “Feast of the Seven Fishes” first emerged, Italian-American families revived the old country’s Christmas Eve tradition by preparing a seven-course seafood meal that brought them closer to their homes. Today, it’s considered one of the oldest and proudest Italian traditions — but we give America credit for that!
What Types of Seafood is Served for the Feast of the Seven Fishes?
Calamari, salt cod, octopus, shrimp, sea snails, whelks, clams,oysters, and smelt,branzino or whiting are some of the most beloved seafood for serving as part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Some of the traditional dishes are Marinated Anchovies,(Acciughe Marinate alla Ligure), Wild Sea Bass Soup (Brodetto di Branzino), Fish Tartare (Crudo di Pesce), Seafood Pasta (Paccheri con Sugo di Mare), Baked Fish (Pesce al Forno), Grilled Fish (Pesce alla Griglia), and Fish with Roasted Fennel and Taggiasca Olives (Pesce in Umido Eel). Particular preparations of seafood vary, but pasta is always incorporated in some form, and fritto misto and fish stew are both commonly enjoyed.
How To Serve the Feast of Seven Fishes?
The first course starts with something snack-like. There are six more courses, so its best you pace your guests. Serving something similar to whipped bacalao is recommended. The second course is usually a light salad. A cold seafood salad for the second course is an ideal way to move right into the more extensive courses. The third course is when you introduce the hearty, grilled, or seared fish. Choose center-cut fillets of fish similar to cod, salmon, or bass. To enhance the flavors, pair the dish with vegetables, beans, or legumes. Four the fourth course, bring out the pasta! Whatever seafood you choose to pair with your noodles, add flavor with a pinch of pepper. On the fifth course, cook up a hearty seafood stew, go red with your keep it lights, and low acidity. The sixth course is meant to be a palate cleanser. Lastly, the seventh course usually is a sweet Italian treat.
The important thing is to maintain the Christmas Eve tradition. Christmas is a way to celebrate family and invoke all the memories of all the people that have passed on. It brings you back, closer to your roots. To an Italian family and an Italian-American family — what’s special takes place around the dinner table. At Strega, we uphold the value and importance of the tradition of the Feast of Seven Fishes. Join us this holiday season for a taste.